Catherine Mansfield is one of New Zealand’s was most famous writers, who was closely associated with D.H. Lawrence and something of a rival of Virginia Woolf. Mansfield’s creative years were burdened with loneliness, illness, jealousy, alienation — all this is reflected in her work with the bitter depiction of marital and family relationships of her middle-class characters. Her short stories are also notable for their use of stream of consciousness technique. Like the Russian writer Anton Chekhov, Mansfield depicted trivial events and subtle changed in human behaviour.
Katherine Mansfield was born in Wellington, New Zealand, into a middle-class colonial family. Her father, Harold Beauchamp, was a banker and her mother, Annie Burnell Dyer, was of genteel origins. She lived for six years in the rural village of Karori. Later on Mansfield said “I imagine I was always writing. Twaddle it was, too. But better far write twaddle or anything, anything, than nothing at all.” At the age of nine she had her first text published. As a first step to her rebellion against her background, she withdrew to London in 1908 and studied at Queen’s College, where she joined the staff of the College Magazine.
During her stay in Germany she wrote satirical sketches of German characters,which were published in 1911 under the title In a German Pension. Earlier her stories had appeared in The New Age. On her return to London in1910, Mansfield became ill with an untreated sexually transmitted disease,a condition which contributed to her weak health for the rest of her life. She attended literary parties without much enthusiasm: “Pretty rooms and pretty people, pretty coffee, and cigarettes out of a silver tankard… I was wretched.”
In 1911 Mansfield met John Middleton Murray, a Socialist and former literary critic, who was first a tenant in her flat, then her lover. Mansfield co-edited and contributed to a series of journals. Until 1914 she published stories in Rhythm and The Blue Review. During the war she travelled restlessly between England and France. In 1915 she met her brother “Chummie”. When he died in World War I, Mansfield focused her writing on New Zealand and her family. ‘Prelude’ (1916), one of her most famous stories, was written during this period. In 1918 Mansfield divorced her first husband and married John Murray. In the same year, she was found to have tuberculosis.
In her last years, Mansfield lived much of her time in southern France and in Switzerland, seeking relief from tuberculosis. As a part of her treatment in 1922 at an institute, Mansfield had to spend a few hours every day on a platform suspended over a cow manger. She breathed odors emanating from below but the treatment did no good. Without the company of her literary friends, family or her husband, she wrote much about her own root sand her childhood. Mansfield died of a pulmonary hemorrhage on January9, 1923. Her last words were: “I love the rain. I want the feeling of it on my face”.
Mansfield was greatly influenced by Anton Chekhov, sharing his warm humanity and attention to small details of human behaviour. Her influence on the development of the short story; a form of literature was also notable. Among her literary friends were Aldous Huxley, Virginia Woolf, who considered her over-praised, and D.H. Lawrence, who later turned against Murray and her.